Thursday, January 1, 2015

Book Review: Behavior Adjustment Training

I love, love, LOVE Behavioral Adjustment Training by Grisha Stewart. I've been using treats and toys as motivators for years, but until now I had no good way to help dogs that aren't that into those things. Grisha Stewart has a magical combination of a writing style and a training style that both resonate well with me. Rather than bringing a radical new approach, or explaining what I've been doing wrong all these years, she built on things I already knew while giving me new ways to use them.
Photo by Erin Koski

I love Grisha Stewart's writing style, it feels so familiar and conversational. Reading BAT was like having an animated conversation with a new friend. Sometimes I read a dog book and feel like a knowledgeable professor is impersonally handing down their wisdom from on high, being sure to tell me everything I'm doing wrong in the process.

The biggest idea introduced in BAT is the idea of functional rewards, rewarding a desired behavior by doing something the dog wanted to do anyway. Like pretty much everything in this book, this was not a totally novel concept. I had already been using functional rewards with Brisbane and cutting his nails, I just didn't have a name for it. Years of desensitization attempts have been unsuccessful, but I figured out a couple of years ago that if I wrestle Briz down and cut one nail just a tiny bit, I can reward him by immediately stopping everything and ending that day's torture session.

Behavioral Adjustment Training uses the release of pressure as a reward. Reactive dogs that bark at people/dogs/life don't really want to attack those things so much as they want them to just go away. BAT uses no pressure at all, properly done it looks pretty much like someone casually walking their dog on a long leash. What is actually happening though, is that the dog is being allowed to encounter their trigger at a distance that allows them to observe without panicking. The handler waits for them to disengage via sniffing or looking away, marks that behavior, and then walks away from the trigger as a reward. There are no food treats involved, and ideally the dog works in a regular harness on a long line to avoid leash pressure entirely.

Removing pressure is a huge part of Grisha Stewart's training methods. Her book is absolutely brimming with different ways to use this. I loved the page on training a dog to enjoy wearing a muzzle, it starts with hiding the muzzle, bringing it into view, marking and rewarding the dog for looking at the muzzle, and then hiding it again. Further on, the process involves continually moving away from the dog so that they want to go toward it for their reward. This is less threatening than putting it into their personal space, and gives them the opportunity to avoid an unpleasant experience if they choose not to interact.

Probably my favorite part of the BAT book is hearing about Grisha Stewart's dog Peanut, how she tried to socialize him as a baby puppy without knowing precisely how to make every experience a good one. How he led her to develop the entire BAT method via his extreme reactivity and behavior issues. It reminded me so much of my experience with Brisbane, and how he has driven me to learn as much as possible in my quest make him happy and secure.

No comments:

Post a Comment